Category Archives: decency

Let the heavens fall, so long as my ideas remain pure

Knowing that Man remains Man, writes Dalrymple,

absolves me of the responsibility of trying to bring about a better species, which seems to be the favorite occupation and ambition of so many of our intellectuals. I am better advised to confine my efforts to behaving myself with tolerable decency, which in my case is a perpetual struggle.

He cites a passage in Johnson’s essay on charity (Idler, No. 4, May 6, 1758):

We must snatch the present moment, and employ it well, without too much solicitude for the future, and content ourselves with reflecting that our part is performed. He that waits for an opportunity to do much at once, may breathe out his life in idle wishes, and regret, in the last hour, his useless intentions, and barren zeal.

Dalrymple comments:

Is not barren zeal a description of the favourite state of mind of so many of us? Theoretical zealotry, which never has the opportunity to test its ideas against reality, and knows it never will, can keep a certain type of mind satisfied for years, decades, even a lifetime.

He points out that such zealotry is, of course, very far from harmless.

It finds some few who are willing to act upon it, with what results the history of the 20th century (as well as many other centuries) attests.

Some people

prefer the syllogisms of their ideas to the complexities of reality. They are to the world what obsessional housewives are to a house, and they turn a morbid psychological state into a historical catastrophe.

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A really good man

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-16-49-13Dalrymple draws attention to the opening of Sir Henry H. Bashford’s Augustus Carp, Esq., By Himself, Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man (1924):

It is customary, I have noticed, in publishing an autobiography to preface it with some sort of apology. But there are times, and surely the present is one of them, when to do so is manifestly unnecessary. In an age when every standard of decent conduct has either been torn down or is threatened with destruction; when every newspaper is daily reporting scenes of violence, divorce, and arson; when quite young girls smoke cigarettes and even, I am assured, sometimes cigars; when mature women, the mothers of unhappy children, enter the sea in one-piece bathing-costumes; and when married men, the heads of households, prefer the flicker of the cinematograph to the Athanasian Creed — then it is obviously a task, not to be justifiably avoided, to place some higher example before the world.

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-17-00-32

Bashford was the king’s physician

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-16-49-44screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-11-16-05 screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-17-04-03 screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-17-04-25 screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-17-04-13 screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-17-04-53 screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-17-06-41screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-17-18-00

With unction and humility Augustus describes his virtuous youth and manhood and his efforts to rid society of strong drink and tobacco, dancing, the theatre, and other manifestations of man’s lower nature; not omitting his surrender to the wiles of an actress or what ensued when she plied him with intoxicants disguised as fruit juice.

With unction and humility Augustus describes his virtuous youth and manhood and his efforts to rid society of strong drink and tobacco, dancing, the theatre, and other manifestations of man’s lower nature; not omitting his surrender to the wiles of an actress or what ensued when she plied him with intoxicants disguised as fruit juice.

The excremental philosophy

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 19.43.35A supposedly sophisticated surrender to vice

Everything is permissible, writes Dalrymple, meaning

tolerance has transmuted itself to indifference: and indifference is the harbinger of radical egotism.

Whim being the measure of all things,

men are reduced to the same elemental level: they have no individuality or character, whatever their station. The loss of social constraints, roles and obligations, far from freeing the human personality so that it may flourish, flattens and then destroys it.

Because there is no socially accepted conception of how things ought to be,

there is no contrast between how they are and how they ought to be, hence no humour: the great consolation of imperfection.

All flesh

is shit. Our noses are repeatedly rubbed in excremental reality.

A civilisation in decay that justifies its squalor

Vice — drug-taking, public exhibitions of sadism, male prostitution — is,

as it has always been, with us: a reflection that leads not to a call for a struggle against what lies buried or potential in each of us but to a supposedly sophisticated surrender to it.

The modern fear is that,

by believing in common decency, for example, one is revealing oneself as ignorant and naïve, and probably a hypocrite.

Squalor, says Dalrymple,

disgusts me, but not as much as the excremental philosophy that squalor is all that truly exists, that it was ever thus, and thus it will ever be. Only a civilisation in decay can justify its squalor in this fashion.

The excremental philosophy is, he points out,

chosen, not imposed upon us by the nature of existence. Our problem is that so many have chosen it.

The sadist-moralists

The dehumanisation of people is one of the mechanisms by which atrocities are committed and accepted

The dehumanisation of people is one of the mechanisms by which atrocities are committed and accepted

Committing evil for goodness’ sake, writes Dalrymple,

satisfies the inner sadist and the inner moralist at the same time.

That is why, he says, the beheadings in the Middle East and recently in the Philippines are, for those who conduct them,

such fun.

The latest outrage, Dalrymple reports (though he is sceptical about its veracity), is the

freezing to death by ISIS of 45 of their fighters who retreated, or ran away, before the advance of Iraqi forces; ISIS is alleged to have put the men into a freezer in a forensic morgue in Mosul and then put the bodies by the roadside as a warning to other would-be cowards. For myself, I was a little surprised that as sophisticated an institution as a forensic morgue was still in existence and still functioning in the Islamic State.

Dalrymple is interested in a reader’s comment underneath a report of the alleged atrocity. The commenter describes ISIS as vermin, to be eradicated as such. Dalrymple warns:

There is by now good reason to fear resort to such metaphors, the dehumanisation of people being one of the mechanisms by which atrocities are both committed and accepted. We should fear our own worst thoughts and refrain from giving them expression, for far from assuaging such thoughts, expression of them only goes to make them more frequent and more extreme. By means of such thoughts and such expressions, we become a little more like those who are supposedly the occasion of them, who have also persuaded themselves that there exist human vermin in the world to be eradicated.

This is, he says,

a call to decency and self-control, not to political correctness. Political correctness is the means by which we try to control others; decency is the means by which we try to control ourselves. There is no doubt which is the easier to undertake, and the more pleasurable and gratifying. There is a considerable element of sadism in political correctness.

From Dr Johnson's dictionary

From Dr Johnson’s dictionary

How a surgeon of experience and integrity acts

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 17.58.19Dalrymple has an example in his family history

of a surgeon who acted in a way that would now be deemed ethically reprehensible, and perhaps actionable, but which seems to me to have been in the very highest tradition of his profession.

His name was Cox,

and I don’t know whether he is still alive: by now he would be very old. I thanked him insufficiently at the time.

Dalrymple was in Africa when he telephoned his mother.

She was about to go to America on a visit, but she told me that she had been bleeding intestinally. I told her she must abandon her visit and see a surgeon at once, which she did.

It was cancer.

She underwent an operation within the week. I returned home before the operation.

Dalrymple mère

said that she wanted nothing hidden from her; she wanted to be told everything, and made me promise that I would hide nothing.

Dalrymple mère exuded

pride in her own rationality.

After the operation, the surgeon Cox

spoke to me. Whether he was franker with me than he would have been with a son who was not a doctor I do not know; but he told me that, while he had excised all the cancerous tissue that he could see macroscopically, histology demonstrated that my mother’s prognosis was very bad. There was an 80% chance of recurrence within a year.

Dalrymple said that Dalrymple mère had made him promise that he would tell her everything.

The surgeon said that, on his estimate of my mother’s character and personality, this would not be a good idea. He advised me against this course of action; and since he was clearly a man of experience and integrity, I took his advice.

Dalrymple mère asked Dalrymple, when she had recovered sufficiently from the operation, what the surgeon had said.

I told her that, as far as he could see, he had cut out all the cancerous tissue. This was the truth, but of course not the whole truth, and I rather dreaded further questions, to which I might have to reply with outright lies: and I might not prove to be a very convincing liar. My mother was perfectly well aware that removing all cancerous tissue to the naked eye was not the whole of the matter, but to my surprise – and relief – she enquired no further. Despite her protestations beforehand, she did not want to know everything.

In the event, Dalrymple mère

lived another 19 years without recurrence and relatively free of anxiety about her cancer because the surgeon had ‘cut it all out’.

Dalrymple was impressed by the surgeon Cox.

It seemed to me then, and seems to me still, that he had acted as the model of a fine medical practitioner. He was technically accomplished, it goes without saying; the operation went smoothly, with no avoidable complications. But more than that, he had given consideration to my mother as a person, as a human being; and on the basis of limited acquaintance with her – at most, a few examinations in the clinic – he had come to a shrewd and, I believe, accurate assessment of what was best for her, better indeed than my assessment.

Surgeons

are often accused of being brash, mere technicians without human subtlety, but this was certainly not the case with him.

The surgeon Cox

is a hero to me.

His

understanding of the requirements for decency was much more sophisticated than that of modern medical ethics. He understood that people generally live in a social situation, not as isolated beings, and that it is sometimes right for relatives to know more about an illness than the ill person him or herself.

Dalrymple is sure that the surgeon Cox

knew that truthfulness can descend into indifference to suffering or even to sadism. To try to force people to know what they do not want to know can be cruel, and ineffective into the bargain.

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David Rijckaert III, The Surgeon, 1638. Musée des beaux-arts de Valenciennes

What British fascism looks like

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 07.55.55Timeservers led by scoundrels

Dalrymple grew up believing

that it couldn’t happen here; that the intrinsic decency, good sense and ironical detachment of the British would have precluded Nazism or anything like it from taking root. Now I am not so sure.

Utter vileness

does not need a numerical majority to become predominant in a society. The Nazis never had an electoral majority in Germany, yet Germany offered very little resistance to their barbarism. Evil, unlike good, is multiform. We can invent our own totalitarian evil. We have prepared the ground very well.

Hedonistic egotism, fear and resentment

form the character of a large proportion of our population, and it is a character that is ripe for exploitation. They have made themselves natural slaves.

Dalrymple recently received a circular headed New ethnic categories that began with the words,

As you may know, we are required to monitor the ethnic origins of our staff.

Who, he asks,

was this ‘we’ of whom the circular spoke: no names, only ‘the human resources unit’ (Orwell could have done no better). No decent reason for this fascistic practice was given; the ‘we are required’ being the final and irrefutable argument. It is a fair bet that not a peep of protest was uttered in the office of the ‘human resources unit’ when this circular was sent round. Would anyone have mentioned the fact that the Dutch bureaucracy’s refusal to destroy census data on the religious affiliations of the Dutch population on the eve of the German occupation greatly aided the subsequent elimination of Dutch Jewry?

Septic isle

Every public service

has been weakened by the ethos of obeying centralised orders. Doctors, teachers, the police, social workers, prison officers, crown prosecutors, university dons have all been emasculated by the ‘need’ to obey orders that they know are fatuous at best, and positively destructive or wicked at worst.

The organised lying

not only blunts critical faculties and makes it impossible to distinguish true information from false, but morally compromises those who participate in the process. The more state employees conform to the rules laid down, the more helpless and degraded they become, which is the ultimate purpose of these rules.

The public,

gorged with bread and benumbed by circuses, is indifferent. I can’t help thinking of the murder of psychiatric patients and the mentally disabled in Nazi Germany. Neither the public nor the medical profession protested to any great extent (though, instructively, those few doctors who did protest were not punished for it). This terrible crime was made possible, though not inevitable, by an entire cultural context. We, too, are creating a cultural context in which great state crimes are possible.

It could happen here

When Dalrymple sees

the routine inhumanity with which my patients are treated by the state and its various bureaucracies, often in the name of obedience to rules, I think that anything is possible in this country.

When he sees

the mobs of drunken young people who pullulate in our city centres every weekend, awaiting their evil genius to organise them into some kind of pseudo-community, and think of our offices full of potential Eichmanns, I shudder.

British fascism

will no doubt be touchy-feely rather than a boot in the face – more Kafka than Hitler – but it will be ruthless nonetheless.

Moral delicacy on Facebook

All we want is attention

All we want is attention

The internet and Facebook, Dalrymple notes,

are certainly bringing into prominence the intrinsic decency and sense of fair play of the English,

as well as their

refined use of language.

He cites the Facebook contributions that greeted the reduction of the sentence given to Lee Kilburn. Mr Kilburn, Dalrymple explains,

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.58.04is a 42-year-old man of previously good character who was driven to distraction by children who constantly knocked on his door and ran away. His wife had just been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Mr Kilburn chased one of the children who had knocked on his door, and there are two versions of what happened: he says he ran after her, grabbed her and she fell, he fell on top of her and she broke her nose on the ground; she says he punched her and broke his nose.

Mr Kilburn admitted that he had lost his temper and was in the wrong, but denied that he had intended to injure the girl. The judges agreed that there were mitigating circumstances, freed him from jail and suspended his sentence. One response on Facebook to the judicial decision read as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.59.15I’d go inside [i.e. be admitted to prison] just to wrap a quilt round his neck and stab the **** in his skull until his head is drained, no remorse, no mercy, dead! His cell would be covered in red.

Dalrymple comments:

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 12.00.42The moral delicacy of the man who wrote this is evident from his refusal to spell out the four-letter word he wanted to use to describe Mr Kilburn. The line has to be drawn somewhere.

He asks:

Did people have sentiments such as the above before Facebook enabled them to be expressed anonymously in public, or did the possibility of expressing them in public anonymously call them forth?

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Rottrollen (detail), 1917. John Bauer. Pen and wash

 

The Master said: To see what is right and not to act is want of courage

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 04.19.39Simon Leys, writes Dalrymple, did not want courage. Throughout the Cultural Revolution, he

mocked and excoriated the Western sympathisers, who were legion, of that dreadful revolt against civilisation.

(The Master said: ‘To worship the ghosts of strangers is fawning.’)

During those locust years, the great Belgian sinologue

defended the immemorial refinement of Chinese civilisation from the brutality of the assault upon it in the name of ideological purity, and defended intelligence and decency from stupidity and cruelty. He was almost alone.

 

The case of Quelino Ojeda-Jiménez

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 01.45.02Dalrymple writes that if Ojeda-Jiménez had been his patient, he

would have fought tooth and nail on his behalf – for kindness’ and decency’s sake, and hang the consequences.

In search of sordor

Nostalgie de la boue: The romantic appeal of filth, violence and vomit

Dalrymple writes that it is today not uncommon

for children from good homes to seek out a squalid existence rather than a decent one. I have had as patients more than one middle-class girl who ran away from a comfortably bourgeois present and a bright academic future in order to join crack-addled prostitutes.

Why?

Why would anyone run away from a rich and cultivated home…to seek out and allow pimps to ply her with heroin?

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 23.50.03The answer is that squalor

seems more exciting, authentic and real, especially to those who have known nothing but security. Some achieve squalor as some kind of guarantee of authenticity. They wear squalor as a badge of honour won against the odds in the battle against respectability. A respectable career is tame and boring, at least for those who seek excitement and strong sensation. A squalid life is seldom without crises and drama, which keep the adrenalin pumping and ennui at bay. Women who repeatedly have relationships with violent men may quickly reject a man who treats them decently.

Bohemianism of an especially sordid kind becomes a sign of moral election,

as once a scrubbed doorstep was a sign of working-class respectability. Leading a comfortable existence may seem like injustice, the perpetuation of unearned privilege or a betrayal of the poor. Although living in squalor will not assist the impoverished in the slightest, it shows that one’s heart is in the right place.